The Equation Of An Emerging Math-Post-Rock Band: A Chat With cues
There’s plenty to unpack when it comes to cues.
A fledgling quartet of NKOTB who traverse the imaginative realm of instrumental rock (primarily in the math- and post- departments), they make statements without speaking a word. Catching them live, one will promptly realise that their instruments are the only mouthpieces they need; instruments that they’ve mastered dexterously as evidenced by their fondness for finger-tapping techniques and other guitar acrobatics. They are an outfit with – at the time of writing – just one official single, yet they’ve already landed gigs at the scene-revered Baybeats Festival and opening slots for Japanese math mavericks, JYOCHO.
Made up of Rex on drums, Hui Jun on bass, and identical twin sisters, Germaine and Gina, on guitars, cues also don’t want you to identify them as a “girl-dominated” band; a sentiment that I, too, feel is as redundant as calling bands like Battles and Chon all-guy bands. The talent should take centrestage, and right now, the spotlight is all on cues.
In this interview, we find out more about their origin story, the reasons for their musical prowess, and endearingly enough, how much they really love anime and video games.
What does a slice of life look like in the life of cues?
Twins: A full-time nine-to-six desk job. Nightly hangs, jams and Netflix-bingeing. And a loud sigh after taking a swig of ice-cold after-work beer or milk tea bubble tea.
Hui Jun: I try to drink at least one bubble tea a day, but now I work till quite late and there's no bubble tea near my workplace!
Rex: It’s a constant juggling game of me overloading myself with gig opportunities, trying to expose myself to all sorts of genres to learn, as well as to complete my full time studies in NUS, and the occasional beers with my friends as breathers, of course.
What steered y’all towards the love for math- and post-rock? Was it a genre that y’all grew up with?
Twins: We started with pop-punk and emo in our early teens, then moved on to post-hardcore, metalcore and screamo in our late teens. As we got older, we started listening to lighter stuff – more post-rock and ambient stuff. Somewhere along the way, we came across this Japanese band called toe and they kinda blew our minds. From there, we dived into the world of math.
Rex: I actually got exposed to it after I met Hui Jun when she invited me to perform “weird” music during a gig opportunity while we were both in NUS Amplified (NUS’ Rock band CCA) and subsequently, she invited me to form a math-/post-rock band (Kido Limbo) which is now on hiatus due to members being overseas.
Hui Jun: To be honest, I don't remember distinctively when I first got exposed to this genre, but I recall noodling on the guitar many years back when I started experimenting with originals, and realising that songs can be written in other time signatures. That’s when I started noticing odd-timed songs more.
Here’s one for twin sisters, Germaine and Gina. When it comes to the creative aspect, is it more a case of sibling telepathy or sibling rivalry?
Twins: It's both actually! Growing up, there were defnitely a lot of comparisons made between the two of us, which would naturally cause some rivalry. But a little bit of competition is healthy as we will spur each other on to be better at everything and anything that we do. But when we write music, we always try to find a happy medium where both of us get to play what we want. At the same time, we make sure that the riffs still work with each other, and that means making certain sacrifices at times. We wouldn't call it telepathy per se, but more of a conscious collaborative effort.
Is bassist, Hui Jun, the adopted sister? How did y’all get together?
Twins: Awww yes, as good as an adopted sister! We met Hui Jun through our previous bassist, Nicholas (from supersect); they went to school together! Hui Jun then introduced our newest member, Rex, and that's how we got the current lineup.
Hui Jun: I do find our wavelengths eerily similar sometimes. I'll probably be like them if I have a twin as well. But for now, adopted sister works well [laughs].
There is lots of guitar trickery going on, from nimble finger-tapping to fluid riffs. Are all of y’all musically trained? Or just very good YouTube students?
Twins: We had guitar lessons as teens for about one to two years and learnt to play classical piano as kids. But our theory isn't great. We mostly rely on our ears when creating and writing music.
Rex: I briefly learnt piano in secondary school and started picking up drums in my school concert band as a percussionist.
Hui Jun: Ah this is a hard question to answer – that depends on what constitutes formal music training! Let's see... I did piano as a kid too, but I stopped pretty early on. I was also from DMAT (Diploma in Music and Audio Technology at Singapore Polytechnic) if that counts; I picked up bass in my second year! I have learnt a ton from other musician friends and just by attending shows and yes... YouTube is SUPER HELPFUL.
How do the songs come together? Does it start with rhythm, melody, or simply rojak experimentation?
cues: Usually, it will start off with rojak experimentation on the guitar side of things. The idea is then brought to the band and everyone adds in their own parts and ideas. We don't believe in dictating what everyone else adds to the mix because we all have different experiences when it comes to life and music. Everyone is able to bring something new and fresh to the table and take the music to the next level, and sometimes even to unexpected places.
How do you tell stories in your sounds without the use of lyrics? Are themes involved?
cues: We usually draw inspiration from things we see in everyday life. For example, “Toriel” was inspired by a character of a similar name from the game Undertale. “butttxt” was inspired by math-rock band names that look like they were butt-texted; for example, Hong kong band, tfvsjs and Japanese band, haisuinonasa. We just noodle around and keep what we think sounds nice, or if we like the vibe of it. We don't try to think too hard about stuff like that, people are free to interpret and make their own conclusions, or just listen to the songs without a need to find meaning behind them.
Can we expect to hear this new material soon?
cues: Yes! We are releasing "butttxt" soon. And we plan to release our EP sometime at the end of the year or start of 2020!
Does it matter if critics point you out as an “all-girl band”? Or do you personally think it’s redundant to add gender into the equation?
cues: We understand that, in a sea of bands and with so much music available out in the world, this can be quite a unique selling point. But at the same time, we don't want it to be the main selling point, because what's most important is the music itself. We would hate for people to think that we got to wherever we are based on gender or whatever; that just discredits all the effort and work that goes into the music. So yeah, gender can be like a double-edged sword in that sense. What would be awesome though is if more girls play music to the point that "all-girl" isn't a unique selling point anymore, but a norm.
Congratulations on being selected for Baybeats this year. How are y’all taking it?
cues: Still pretty surprised! Its been fun so far, going for the workshops and hanging with the other budding bands. We are super grateful and amazed at the things that have been coming our way this year; it makes us a bit more hopeful and excited about the future of cues. We actually started cues as a hobby band, so we never expected to go beyond that.
And finally, as a self-professed geek, I couldn’t help but notice your affinity for video games and anime. Care to share a few of your favourites?
Twins: For anime, Gintama, My Hero Academia, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Welcome To The N.H.K., Solanin, and anything Ghibli or Makoto Shinkai-related. For games, Yakuza 0, The Witcher, Dishonored, Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry, Saint’s Row, the early Assassin’s Creed games and uhhh… The Sims [laughs].
Rex: Gintama and Fullmetal Alchemist are my favourites too! Additionally, some of my other favourites are One Piece, Liar Game and Berserk . As for games, I mostly played RPG-style games in the past, like the classic Final Fantasy, a pretty one called Disgaea, and Pokémon.
Hui Jun: I have a confession: I don't actually play games much now except for Clash Royale (with Rex). As for anime and manga, I consume quite a lot. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is one of the top few on my list. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, One Punch Man, Mob Psycho, Haikyuu! Oh, and this really overlooked one called Wolf's Rain (can't really go wrong with anything that Yoko Kanno scores for).
For more information on cues, visit their Facebook page.